Albrecht von Wallenstein, 1583-1634
Sidney Z. Elher describes how, for a decade, during the Thirty Years War, Wallenstein dominated the scene in the Holy Roman Empire.
In the demonology of the Thirty Years War, Albrecht von Wallenstein—as he is usually called—holds a place hors concours. There came a stage in that war when all the Holy Roman Empire, from its Electors down to the humblest peasants, Protestants and Catholics alike, feared and hated him so much that the Diet of Regensburg, in 1630, made considerable concessions to the Emperor with only one condition attached: that he must dismiss Wallenstein immediately from the supreme command of his army. He did so, but hardly two years later the formidable generalissimo was back.
Admittedly, he was not the only one to blame for the peculiarly dismal atmosphere of the Thirty Years War, compounded of unprecedented sufferings of the civilian population, famine, cruelty and cynicism, which drove even Berthold Brecht’s “Mother Courage” to despair. But if many were responsible for these features collectively, Wallenstein’s individual contribution was doubtless the weightiest of all. It was the unique conditions of that long, all-European struggle that enabled him to assert the influence of his pesonality so forcefully.